Aha! Parenting Blog

Practical solutions for real parenting problems

When You and Your Child Need Some First Aid Fast

"When we act with love, trying to understand the other person, it is easy, natural to have more patience." -- Alice Uchida

All parents have hard days sometimes, and even hard weeks or months. Maybe we have an interaction with our child that leaves us hurt and resentful. Maybe we find ourselves in an escalating cycle, where we see everything they do through a negative lens. 

But we know that carrying those feelings into the future will erode the relationship, and prevent us from being the emotionally generous parent every child needs so they can thrive. How can you recover your patience, repair the relationship, and move back into a positive cycle?

Here are five steps you can take that will really help. You'll see big changes within a few days.

1. Restore your own calm.

The first step is to get past your own upset. When you're hurt, or scared, you naturally want to lash out. But your child is not the enemy, no matter what she did. So the first step is to calm yourself down before you talk to your child.

Acknowledge what you're feeling as you hold yourself with compassion. Breathe deeply, letting yourself feel those tears and fears. Stay away from the story about why your child is wrong. Instead, just feel whatever pain you feel at the moment, noticing the physical sensations. Love yourself through it. Those scary feelings will begin to evaporate, and you won't need the anger to defend against them. Now you can start to choose love.

2. Consciously choose love instead of fear.

Every choice, at core, is between love or fear. Usually, we "crack down" on kids out of our own fear. It's natural to worry when your child seems to be purposely acting badly. Will she still be like this when she grows up? Luckily, the answer is almost certainly no. She will mature. It's natural for her to make mistakes or act childish -- her frontal cortex is still developing (and won't be finished until she's in her twenties!) What she really needs from you, so that she can grow and change, is your unconditional love and your belief in her essential goodness. Sure, she needs to do some changing and growing -- but to do that, she first needs to feel understood.

3. See it from his perspective.

Your child is not out to get you. He's only trying to get his needs met as best he can. If he's using strategies that don't work so well, your job as the parent is to figure out how to help him meet those needs more constructively.  For instance:

  • A child who acts disrespectful needs more connection with you -- and to feel heard and respected by you.
  • A child who's hitting a younger sibling is almost always acting out of fear -- that you don't love him as much, or that his territory is being invaded. Aggression is a defense against fear or pain.
  • A child who's being obstinate usually needs more autonomy and opportunities to explore her power and independence appropriately.
  • A child who's being demanding and cranky usually needs to cry in the safety of your arms. You make that safe by first building more connection, through empathy and laughter.

4. Write a list of all the things you appreciate about your child.

Make sure your list is at least a page long. Stalled out?  Think back to when she was a baby.  Or reflect on how every "fault" you see in your child is actually a strength if seen from another perspective, and list those strengths. Notice that whatever you're not liking about your child's behavior is relatively small in the larger picture of your unique, wonderful child. 

5. Re-connect.

Find every opportunity to empathize and connect. Acknowledge his feelings so he feels heard and accepted, even when you're setting limits ("I see how frustrated you are"....."This isn't what you wanted"....."You wish it could be different") Roughhouse to get him laughing every day. Be sure you let him know many times daily that you see, hear, value him. At bedtime, ask him what was good about his day, and listen while you stroke his hair. Tell him all the things you love about him.  Tell him how lucky you are to be his parent. In the end, maybe the most important thing you can do for your child's self esteem, and for your relationship with him, is to actively delight in him.

After three days of this, you should see a big difference in how connected you feel with your child. You'll also see a big difference in your child's behavior, because children blossom when they feel safe and connected.

And you'll notice that you're more patient. Because patience doesn't come from gritting your teeth and trying not to lose your temper. Patience comes from your deep understanding of your child's perspective....Your awareness that she's a child, still learning....And your love, which is always so much bigger than those tough days.

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